Sunday, February 7, 2010

We're All Commonwealthy

All 31 acres of Troy Gardens are owned as a commons. Affordable co-housing is on the lower right, community gardens are on the lower left, the CSA farm is in the upper right, and native prairie/woodlands in the upper left. (Source: Madison Area Community Land Trust)

In Madison, Wisconsin, Troy Gardens is a shining example of the vital role that community land trusts can play in taking land off the speculative market and holding it in trust for community a Commonwealth...and avoiding the fate of unsecured community assets such as South Central Farm.

What started as a struggle to maintain community garden plots threatened by the sale of State-owned land in the mid-1990’s has blossomed into a leading example of green urban design incorporating affordable housing, food security, and community-based land tenure. Greg Rosenberg, Executive Director of the Madison Area Community Land Trust, describes the 31-acre site as a community asset combining:
- 30 green-designed, affordable, privately-owned homes in a cohousing community on 5 acres (16%) of the land with its own stop on the city bus line to downtown Madison
- 26 acres (84%) of the land devoted to urban agriculture, including: over 200 community garden plots for neighborhood residents; a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm with a farm stand and educational programs for school children; and native prairie and woodland edges with extensive edible landscape plantings.

Homeowners at Troy Gardens pay an affordable ground lease on the common land, which benefits them and the surrounding neighborhoods. The Land Trust holds title to all of the land, and a separate conservation land trust holds a conservation easement protecting the open land from future development. Any urban or rural area can benefit in this way by creating a Community Land Trust. (

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Who Owns the Commonwealth?

Boys watch through a fence as South Central Farm is bulldozed
(Source: Los Angeles Independent Media Center)

In cities across the United States, Urban Agriculture Land Trusts are forming to secure land as a community asset for food production, rather than simply a commodity for speculation. The tragic story of South Central Farm in Los Angeles illustrates why land security is such an essential step toward true community food security.

South Central Farm was a place of safety, community, and abundance. Elders told stories about their homelands and taught others to nurture crops, and parents sang folk songs by the fire while children played hide-and-seek between rows of heirloom corn. Located in the South Central neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, South Central Farm was once the largest urban agriculture site in the U.S.A. At its peak, the 14-acre tract was home to an estimated 350 garden plots providing food, flowers, and solace––primarily for Latino families with indigenous roots in North America and Central America. It was one of those rare places where the ancient cultural identity and wisdom of hundreds of varieties of medicinal and nutritional plants, carefully-selected heirloom seeds and fruit trees was celebrated and passed on to the next generation. For over a decade, the farm was an oasis of living soil, edible biomass and biodiversity amidst a cityscape of warehouses, parking lots, weeds and dead dirt.

South Central Farm was located on vacant land offered by the Mayor of Los Angeles to the L.A. Regional Food Bank to use as a community garden that would help heal the wounds of the 1992 riots. But 14 years later it became all too clear that this community asset was not secure. The City of Los Angeles owned the land, and the City Council saw it not as a public park, but prime light-industrial real estate it could sell to generate income. In 2006, following days of protests by urban agriculture activists, gardeners and a cadre of Hollywood stars, the City evicted the gardeners to make way for a warehouse. A phalanx of police in riot gear cleared the way for bulldozers that leveled the urban farm. Four years later, the warehouse has yet to be built, and South Central Farmers is holding annual encampments to reclaim the land as a commons. The Garden, a 2008 documentary film about the farm, received an Academy Award nomination (